“Repetitive soft tissue injuries occur when a tissue undergoes more damage than it can heal from over a period of time,” Matthews said. “The ultimate cause of all repetitive soft tissue injuries is simply doing too much, too soon.”
To prevent a repetitive injury then, you need to take a measured approach to exercise and sports. Nix the weekend warrior approach in which you’re inactive all week, then run 15 miles (24 kilometers) on the weekend.
“Moderation is key,” said orthopedic physical therapist Scott Cheatham, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
It’s also important to acclimate your body slowly to a given activity. “The only proven way to reduce your risk of repetitive soft tissue injury is to gradually increase your workout volume and intensity over time,” Matthews said.
A good rule of thumb: Don’t increase your workout volume more than 10% per week. And every four to eight weeks, give your body a rest by significantly reducing the volume and intensity of your workouts. “This ‘three steps forward, one step back’ approach requires discipline and isn’t always fun,” Matthews said, “but it’s the best way to make your body more resilient and durable.”
Diet, stress, sleep may increase risk, too
“If the muscles in your core aren’t strong enough to withstand hours of training, their strength will go down, then the stability of the spine will go down, and then your nerves and soft tissues will be irritated,” she said. “It’s a domino effect.”
Yet these exercises have to be performed properly, or ironically, they could cause a soft issue injury. So consult with a professional before doing them on your own to ensure proper form. This could be your physical therapist, chiropractor, personal trainer or fitness instructor.
Take any injuries seriously
If you do get injured despite your best precautions, take it seriously. “Even when people realize they have a soft tissue injury, they often carry on with their program and whistle past the graveyard, hoping it gets better with time,” Matthews said. “More often than not, it just gets worse and worse until it hurts badly enough that the person simply can’t train due to the pain.”
Instead of ignoring that muscle or ligament strain, see a qualified health care provider and expect to spend a few weeks to a month or more recovering, depending on the severity of the injury, your age and other factors. Most importantly, complete your entire rehabilitation process so another injury doesn’t occur, Cheatham said. No stopping the minute you start feeling a little better.
A positive mindset is also key to a speedy recovery. “If you think you will not get any better, you will not get any better. If you think you will get injured again, you will get injured again,” Maranan said. “It starts with your mindset, then religiously doing your home exercises and your post-exercise recovery routine.” And remember, stay mindful to stay true to form.